During the previous, revised cutscene, Tifa was knocked out as the Shinra airship took a hit from one of the Weapons. In her dream, she remembered her first encounter with Cloud after he disappeared from her life to “join SOLDIER.” Strange to say, but this critical scene was a new addition to the international release, just like the previous cutscene of the new Weapons. Apparently the Japanese original needed some pretty loud clarity changes to make the plot clear, not unlike its little cousins, Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 Final Mix, several years later. I can’t imagine what it would be like to play FFVII without them!
Flashback Cloud was in a bad way, still suffering from his exposure to Jenova cells and mako during the events of Crisis Core. Seeing Tifa, he seemed to recognize her, and acted oddly, until all of a sudden he stood up in perfect shape, seeming to adopt an identity as he spoke to her. Tifa, obviously confused, tried to talk to him as though nothing strange had happened, and she became even more confused when Cloud said that it had been five years. In her internal monologue, she insisted it had actually been seven since he left Nibelheim (it was the Nibelheim incident that was five!), and Tifa went on to explain to the player Cloud had knowledge of things he shouldn’t. Unfortunately, before Tifa could work out what was going on, Cloud said he was going to head off and do mercenary work, so she lied and told him about the AVALANCHE bombing as a possible job in hopes of keeping him around. This means that, remarkably, Cloud’s revival into this constructed personality took place just a short time – maybe hours – before the actual start of the game! (Ed. Though as it happens, the official timeline puts a little more space between the two events. I couldn’t check it until I had looked through every entry in the series!)
With our information from Crisis Core, we can now piece together the whole plot twist, though anyone playing FFVII first would have to go a bit further – and then actually go out of their way to complete some optional segments – to get the full picture. (Apparently the optional scene I’m talking about was planned to be mandatory, but they only completed it for the international release and ended up moving it to its optional location. I can understand them moving it, but why did they move it and make it optional when it serves the narrative better as a mandatory sequence?).
In any event, here’s the full timeline from Crisis Core to FFVII:
- Cloud wanted to join SOLDIER to be like Sephiroth, so went off to join SOLDIER seven years ago. He did not, however, make it into SOLDIER and instead ended up in the infantry.
- Jump ahead somewhere between one and two years. Zack and Cloud become friends on a mission to Modeoheim.
- After an indeterminate time skip and a few storyline missions, Sephiroth and Zack get orders to go to Nibelheim to tend to a seemingly unimportant monster infestation. Zack and Sephiroth arrive in Nibelheim with Cloud in tow as one of their guardsmen.
- Sheepish at not making into SOLDIER like he had boasted (this is confirmed later in FFVII), Cloud refuses to show his face in Nibelheim, except to his mother. As a result, Tifa never realized he was there in Nibelheim, thus her saying she hadn’t seen him for seven years
- Almost all the events Cloud described in his Kalm flashback were actually performed by Zack, and the Crisis Core version of events can be seen as full canon. This is confusing, however, because Cloud never got into the reactor during the first visit, and so how he learned about Zack’s conversation with Sephiroth is best explained by the plot’s deus ex machina explanation that Jenova can absorb memories, allowing the developers to set up this utter contrivance.
- Cloud is assigned to defend Tifa while Zack and Sephiroth check out the reactor. The two of them are soon attacked by Genesis Copies that arrive on scene around the time Sephiroth rejects Genesis’ offer to join him. The copies wound Cloud and give him an injury that leaves him bedridden, making it even more believable that Tifa never saw his face despite him spending a whole week in town. Say what you will about Genesis being in the area, but knocking Cloud silly was, in my opinion, a clever Crisis Core-only addition.
- Tifa repeatedly emails Zack about a blonde man in SOLDIER, clearly wanting to ask him if he knows Cloud. If not for the unfortunate timing of certain events, Zack probably would have explained things!
- Sephiroth learns about his past and destroys Nibelheim. Cloud escapes the inn and collapses, as seen in Crisis Core, meaning he was the mysterious unconscious guard that appeared in Sephiroth’s vision of the Nibelheim massacre.
- Zack battled Sephiroth at the Nibelheim reactor but was defeated. Ultimately, Cloud was able to stop Sephiroth, just as shown in Crisis Core and will be seen later in FFVII. You’ll remember that he Kalm flashback cuts off here, meaning Cloud does not remember Zack’s battle with Sephiroth in any way, shape or form, despite having perfect copies of Zack’s memories in other regards (see what I mean about the Jenova memory thing being a contrivance?).
- Sephiroth, gravely wounded, retreated to the North Crater, presumably still carrying Jenova’s head. Although, as I previously discussed, we can’t be definitive about the location of Jenova’s head from this point on.
- Hojo arrives on scene in Nibelheim and experiments on not just Cloud and Zack, but seemingly several Nibelheim survivors as well, turning them into the cloaked figures: Sephiroth “clones.” Cloud and Zack are his only “failures,” and Cloud is left catatonic from toxicosis.
- While FFVII tries to imply that Cloud and Zack arranged a plan to escape by writing on their healing/stasis capsules, this doesn’t hold up against evidence even within FFVII itself! Crisis Core is also muddy on this point because Zack is hallucinating about Angeal. We can only assume that Zack strong-armed his way out while half-conscious, and then rescued Cloud.
- Zack dresses Cloud as a SOLDIER 1st Class for terrible, inadequate reasons that can be blamed almost as much on FFVII as they can on Crisis Core.
- Zack escapes with Cloud’s body. Presumably this is when the arbitrary Jenova cell process begins to work its arbitrary magic on Cloud’s brain to give him exactly as much of Zack’s memories were required to set up this contrived plot twist, but no more than that.
- Zack is shot dead, but lives long enough to make Cloud’s mental condition even worse by instruction Cloud to be his “living legacy.” Cloud apparently takes this as literally as you can possibly imagine, meaning he begins to adopt Zack’s history as his own.
- Cloud limps his way to Sector 7 (it’s not clear how he gets into the city), reasoning from context clues that if he’s dressed as a SOLDIER and vaguely remembers a SOLDIER, he must be a SOLDIER! Specifically that one SOLDIER that he remembers! Yes, that seems likely. Trauma-induced Amnesia and PTSD works however the author wants, right? Just like all mental illnesses! They were invented by authors to create plot twists, and don’t reflect on the real world in any way. And the cardinal rule of any narrative-long mystery is that all the clues have to be obliterated by space aliens, right?
- Tifa discovers Cloud in Midgar. At first accidentally and then with more and more frequency, she weaves a web of lies that reinforce everything Cloud assumes about his past. Soon, she finds that she can’t escape her own web. This is the only detail I like about this entire story after Hojo gets involved. Tifa’s lies are naturally derived, dramatically compelling and will probably have a nice payoff, where the rest of this twist was created out of plot magic and ableism and has earned only my scorn.
Whew, so enough about that! Tifa wakes up in a strange, mechanical room on some sort of medical bed. Barret is with her, and he explains that she’s been unconscious for a week. Realizing that the world hasn’t ended yet, Tifa asks about Sephiroth, and Barret says the crater is surrounded by a barrier of light now, and that the Weapons are on a rampage, but they are still alive. Barret says that while they can’t do anything about the barrier, Rufus is trying to stop the Weapons.
One thing I like about this scene is how Barret begins to move into position before Tifa even asks her inevitable final question: “What about Meteor?” Barret opens the blinds to the room and reveals the giant Meteor – which appears on this game’s logo – is looming over the Planet as they speak. Conveniently, this sequence serves double, revealing that the two of them are in Junon.
Now I’m going to set aside the fact that my gut instinct says that if Meteor were this close, the Planet is already doomed. It’s considerably closer to the Planet than the moon, and that can’t be good for… anything, really, and then there’s the matter of debris. But like I said, we’re setting this aside best we can. Rufus arrived at the door at this point and said it was too bad that Cloud never came to rescue the rest of the party, implying both that the party weren’t there as guests, and that he wanted to get his hands on Cloud more than the rest of them. As for the party members he did have under his thumb, Rufus said that there was nothing they or anyone else could do about Meteor at this point, and the only reason the party was still alive was so he could make public scapegoats of them before the end of the world, via an execution. Why this particularly matters to him at this late stage in the game, I don’t know, but I can sort of see where he’s coming from, in a twisted corporate sort of way, especially since the party legitimately are accessories to the crime. Honestly, combined with him fighting the Weapons, Rufus almost comes off as the most pro-active person here, even if I’d prefer if he had his company spend their time and resources digging the deepest and most secure bunker they could put together in their remaining time.
Boy, if only there already was a big bunker in Midgar! You know, one the size of a whole city! That sure would have been convenient!
The party is led to a nearly empty press room outside the execution chamber. It seems most of the usual press outlets don’t care to cover this, what with the end of the world and all, but there are a few reporters here. One’s eyes are naturally drawn to the suspicious, overlarge figure in a trench coat sitting in the front row. We learn that Scarlet is conducting the execution, and that she wants to start by executing Tifa. Tifa is led into the execution chamber, which we learn is Scarlet’s “special gas chamber.” Everyone… needs a… hobby? Tifa was restrained to the chain in the gas chamber (as I complained to Kyle that the chamber was far too large to be an effective gas chamber), but a Shinra guard unconsciously dropped a key as he exited the room. These people have conquered the world.
But before Scarlet could continue the execution, an alarm sounded and a voice over the loudspeaker said that one of the Weapons was attacking Junon. Almost all the reporters booked it for the entrance, save the stranger in the trench coat, but when they approached to ask Scarlet a question, their mic spouted sleeping gas and knocked her out. With a twirl, the trench coated figure revealed themselves to be Cait Sit and his giant Moogle mount, and he and Barret engaged the Shinra troops in combat. Oh good. Cait Sith. So glad to have you in the party with an unupgraded weapon and a level that we never allowed you to raise at any point in the game. I mean, I know that’s our fault, but do you blame us?
Also: it’s a good thing they didn’t take the gun off of Barret, or at least removed his ammunition if there was no way to disable the prosthetic entirely. Or any of our Materia. And that Barret can apparently shoot accurately with his arms chained behind his back (Cait Sith only unlocks them after the battle). I guess what I’m saying is that Cait Sith probably should have fought some downgraded enemies here on his own instead of teaming up with Barret.
And I’m serious when I said that Cait Sith would need some “downgraded enemies:” guards in this region were equipped with sleeping gas that could easily kill you! This was a hell of a dick move, because they could easily kill the player with some lucky status effects. At least the last save point was only a few scripted sequences ago.
Speaking of obnoxious amounts of time, has anyone else noticed how long it’s been since we experienced anything even resembling “regular play!” Remember, we hadn’t been on the overworld since before Icicle Inn, and that barely counted since it was nearly flush to the City of the Ancients, the Lost Forest, and Bone Village! We haven’t truly been on the overworld since just after the Temple of the Ancients and have essentially been in a linear funnel ever since! Once again, I’m musing over the FFXIII linearity complaints with confusion, but once again, we’ll learn about that when we get to FFXIII.
Barret asked Cait Sith why he had turned on Shinra, and he said he was “against capital punishment” and had it out for Scarlet in particular. Unfortunately, Scarlet had already triggered the gas chamber and Barret could not open the door.
Meanwhile upstairs, Rufus and Heidegger were too concerned with the Weapon attack to be bothered about a prison break. They ordered Junon’s coastal defences put into position, including numerous guns and missile launchers, but they were putting most of their chips on Junon’s massive central cannon, which was so huge it seemed downright impractical. Indeed, Kyle and I didn’t notice the cannon even had a pivot (on closer observation, it does) and spent the next few minutes having a big laugh at the cannon that seemingly couldn’t aim! In any event, the Weapon came within range of the super-cannon, and Rufus took his first shot, but there was no sign of whether or not it had succeeded. In fact, we haven’t even seen the Weapon at this point! Apparently this world hasn’t invented binoculars, because everyone in Junon just stands around staring, wondering what happened. It makes you wonder how the hell they made the shot in the first place!
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, the Weapon was unharmed and Heidegger admitted it would take several minutes to reload the main cannon. After saying this, the Weapon began to rise out of the sea like Godzilla to face heavy Shinra rocket fire, seemingly taking no damage. The Weapon began to attack Junon.
Meanwhile, Tifa was being gassed, and had to hold her breath, so naturally continued to shout for several lines of dialogue! The game returned to Barret and Cait Sith as they decided to find another way into the gas chamber. Luckily there was no timer in this segment, though I would have certainly understood if there had been! With no other choice and with Tifa’s life on the line, Kyle and I did what we had said we would never do: we properly equipped Cait Sith. These are dark days. Unfortunately, when Barret and Dumpface left the room to find another way in, Scarlet locked the door behind them, meaning they’d never be able to try the main doors again even if they found some sort of remote access. Besides being good tension, this was also a good way for the devs to keep the player from trying to fruitlessly to get Tifa out the obvious (but dead-ended) way through the gas chamber door. Instead, Cait Sith recommended we go to the airport, refusing to explain why. Cat, you don’t understand just how little I trust you, do you?
Nevertheless, we can recognize a plot hook when we see it. Making our way to the outer wall of Junon, we found a reporter who was clearly Yuffie in disguise (though where she found a cameraman to work as her stooge, I can’t imagine). We recruited Yuffie and gave her the Hawkeye weapon we had picked up for her at Icicle Inn, but had never had a chance to equip after we had removed her from the party in Wutai and then never put her back. You see, Yuffie was well and beyond the rest of the party in terms of levels and Limit Breaks and it had seemed excessive to use her. Returning to the present, this is a nice segment, rewarding you for finding Yuffie earlier in the game by giving you an extra party member where you otherwise might not have had one, even if it is very brief (frankly, you’re only likely to fight a single random encounter between here and the end of the dungeon). I’m actually a little disappointed that the game never gives Vincent a similar standout scene… but Vincent would end up getting an entire game to himself in the end.
My mood with FFVII has been picking up over the past few scenes, so I’m sad to say that I was really let down once the Weapon surfaced and discovered that it was nothing recognizable and for that matter is never named in the game itself. This is actually Sapphire Weapon, and if I haven’t already spoiled it, it’s not even fought in the game, and has never been referenced by later Final Fantasy material. Shame. Would someone please give this poor fellow a boss cameo?
Arriving at the airport, Cait Sith suddenly began to act like he had taken a wrong turn, not that we had any way of knowing what was going wrong, since he hadn’t told us any details about his plan! With things apparently looking dire, we cut back to Tifa and had to use an awkward system to pick up the key, where each button controlled a different limb and behaved contextually. One thing that confused Kyle about this sequence is that Tifa uses her mouth to free one of her two arms, but would rather die than do that on the other hand, forcing you to use your newly freed hand to accomplish the same task.
Tifa was able to turn off the gas, but still wasn’t able to open the door. Luckily, and in yet another of FFVII’s incredibly irritating contrivances, Sapphire Weapon shot a laser at the facility and cut open the ceiling of exactly Tifa’s room! It never fired a laser blast earlier in the battle, of course, that would have been unfair. As it happened, this would also be its last use of the atomic breath as, in busting open Tifa’s cell in a moment of pure, platinum coincidence, it had set itself up for another contrivance in turn: its head was now directly in front of the big cannon. Rufus and Heidegger blew its head clean off, which was a hell of a thing to see in a rated Teen game, even considering the loose standards of the young, late 90s ESRB. Kyle put on an expert’s voice and remarked: “It turns out [that] without its head, it’s useless.” Who knew?
Tifa climbed out of the room and tried to scale down the building, making it most of the way before falling safely to the ground (a Shinra soldier was not so lucky). With nowhere else to go, he made her way down the giant cannon’s barrel, discovering a placard on one side calling it the “Sister Ray.” This is odd, because the gun will actually have its named supposedly changed to “Sister Ray” later in the plot, and I have no idea why the discrepancy.
Suddenly, Scarlet appeared from… somewhere… and even though Scarlet actually had a guard with her who could do her fighting for her, she and Tifa… ugh. Kyle and I had an exchange at the time that I think will do the explaining for me:
Kyle: Besides “for the sake of a girl slap fight”… why is this happening?
Me: I think there are times where we have to acknowledge that FFVII isn’t as sophisticated as we pretend, and that this really is just here “for a girl slap fight.”
I mean, this is the lowest brow of humour and “arousing” material, so low that I’ve seen almost as many parodies of slap fights in media as I have actual slap fights. And Tifa’s a monk! She should have blown Scarlet three miles off of the shore! This is shooting for the bottom of the barrel. This was the first time I had basically admitted to Kyle that I didn’t think FFVII was the, uh, great literary legend its fans often make it out to be, and I suppose I might as well admit the same to all of you, even though it was probably obvious by now.
After losing, Scarlet called her guard. I’m sure Tifa can handle him, too, but in any event, that little fight would have to be put on hold. Tifa heard a voice urging her to come to the edge of the cannon, and she did so, only for Barret to arrive on one of the Shinra airships. He tossed her a rope and she jumped off the edge of the cannon to grab it… missing, and only catching it at the last second! Nice touch!